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Pre-Sepang analysis - storms to render race a lottery? 08 Apr 2011

Michael Schumacher (GER) Mercedes GP.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Preparations, Sepang, Malaysia, Thursday, 7 April 2011 Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Preparations, Sepang, Malaysia, Thursday, 7 April 2011 Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing walks the circuit.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Preparations, Sepang, Malaysia, Thursday, 7 April 2011 Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Preparations, Sepang, Malaysia, Thursday, 7 April 2011 Lotus Renault GP R31 rear wing detail. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Preparations, Sepang, Malaysia, Thursday, 7 April 2011

The weather, and KERS, are the things uppermost in many minds here today, prior to the first two free practice sessions at Sepang.

With thunderstorms predicted for both qualifying and the race, Michael Schumacher says it could be anyone’s race.

"These days the 'lottery' is a little easier for the fact the race could start in these conditions. Right now I would think you would have to start behind the safety car and in doing that, you are given the tyres you have to choose.

"Come the race and there are normal conditions, then you have to make decisions, and that is a little bit more of a lottery. It's difficult in terms of preparation because I had no rain running over the winter.

"I had a little in Barcelona, but it was so wet I couldn't run, so it's going to be an interesting experience for me if it happens the first time this weekend. I don't know the tyre variation between the intermediate and the heavy wet tyre, and for most of the people that will be the case. So it will be a nice lottery. Let's see who wins it."

Meanwhile, Jenson Button is hoping that McLaren’s KERS will help them to narrow the gap to Red Bull. McLaren won twice with their KERS when it was last legal in 2009 and were competitive with it in the season opener in Melbourne two weeks ago, where Red Bull were unable to run it because of reliability concerns. Button believes KERS could help even more on the Sepang circuit’s two long straights, especially as the FIA have said that the DRS (drag reducing rear wings), designed to help overtaking, may only be activated here on the main straight and not on the longer back stretch.

"KERS is good for us," Button, said yesterday. "We need a powerful KERS to compete against Red Bull because in every other area they are very competitive. At the moment I think we're a long way from them. I get the impression that Seb (Vettel) is yet to show the full potential of that car."

Earlier in the week McLaren’s managing director Jonathan Neale cautioned against underestimating Red Bull's ability to make their KERS work here, however. "I don't know anything about its system,” he admitted. “I think from the basis of Mercedes Benz, which builds our system, with an extra 12 months of experience compared to others, then there should be advantages to do with systems integration and packaging. But that is a very difficult thing to quantify because we don't have any comparative information. I think the one thing that we are all looking for at this stage is to make sure that our cars are reliable as possible."

Melbourne winner Vettel and team mate Mark Webber dominated this race last year, but both acknowledge that they could be at a disadvantage down the long straights if they can’t get their KERS working this time.

"We need to run it tomorrow and see," Webber said. "We haven't tested it since Melbourne. It’s the first time it has gone back on the car, so it will give us some more confidence here tomorrow. But it's a no-brainer. You need to get KERS working reliably and, well. It’s something you should have on the car, especially here."

And the Australian, who refused to go into the set-up issues which affected his RB7 in Australia, added: “It's still a bit of a nervous time to a degree because Melbourne is a pretty unique racing track. Some teams want to improve their qualifying pace and some teams want stronger race performance.

"We've seen the Ferraris in the last few years and certainly last year, being good in the race but a bit out of position and a bit snookered in qualifying, particularly last year when qualifying was very dominant. This year it's less so and Fernando (Alonso) also had a poor first lap in Melbourne, so the tyre situation for the different teams is interesting. And clearly, looking at Vitaly (Petrov), whatever the gap was in qualifying it was not that in the race. So the tyre situation is very sensitive at the moment."

Webber thinks that the DRS rear wings will also have a much greater effect here than it Melbourne. "I got pretty close to Fernando a few times and was expecting to put more pressure on," he said, "but I think it might have been a characteristic of the corner on to the start-finish straight in Melbourne. It's too quick and also the entry to Turn One, even if you got close it's easy for the guy to manipulate the line and give you a different trajectory. Here will be a different story. If you're in the zone on the apex of T15, if the DRS doesn't work here I don't know where it will. We've got a slow corner to open it up, a slow corner at the braking point and Heathrow airport in the middle as well [meaning a very long straight], so it should work!"

David Tremayne

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